Discovering Canadian Beef

Canada AAA grade Ribeye Steaks

If you are a beef lover, then the news of a new source of beef should excite you!  We have been used to Australian and US beef for years, but the government’s strategy of diversification of food sources has seen beef coming from many other parts of the world in recent years. Now you can get beef from Japan, Argentina, Ireland, Brazil, and even Uraguay!

Beef from different countries has its own character which depends on cattle genetics, environment, feed, water quality and meat processing etc.  US beef tastes quite different from Australian beef which tastes different from New Zealand and Argentinian beef.  It is the differences that make it quite interesting to compare the beef from different countries.  In the past, it used to be that I’d buy several steaks, grill them over the BBQ and everyone will have their own steak to enjoy.  Nowadays, I tend to do a steak degustation where I might get a few ribeyes from different countries just so that we can compare the flavor of the beef from different countries!

So, when the Canada High Commission contacted me about a possible collaboration to promote Canada Beef, I was quick to agree.  With its large land mass, vast prairies, snow-capped mountains, and pristine waters from melting ice caps, I was very interested to see how Canadian beef would compare with its Southern neighbor, the US.  I have been a fan of Canadian Pork since their introduction to our local food scene several years ago and if their beef is as good as their pork, then it is really something to look forward to!

The questions that were foremost on my mind were:

1. What makes Canadian beef different?
2. How does it compare to US beef. Is it cheaper?
3. How is Canadian beef graded?

Canadian beef is still not available here, but I managed to get hold of some during Food, Hotel, Asia 2022. Even though they were not Prime Grade, the quality of the beef was very good. Because of its proximity to the US, one would naturally compare Canadian Beef to those of the US which we are quite familiar with already. Now, there are many farms in both Canada and the US and the quality of the beef will differ from individual farms, but there are some general differences. US beef is finished on corn, while Canadian beef is finished on barley and wheat. What that means is that the fat in Canadian beef is generally white in color and is associated with volatile compounds which produces a pleasant beef flavour.

Canadian Beef Grading System

In terms of the grading, the marbling score of Canada Prime grade beef is similar to that of USDA Prime, while Canada AAA grade beef is similar to that of USDA Choice. These are the two grades which we generally see at the supermarket. The difference between the grading system is that Canada takes into consideration the color of the meat, the fat and the age of the cattle when awarding Prime and AAA grade beef while the US doesn’t. That means that when you buy Canada Prime or AAA grade, the meat will be a bright red color, the fat will be white and the animal would be less than 30 months old to ensure the tenderness of the meat.

Photo courtesy Canada Beef

Geographical Advantage

Canada is the second largest country in the world and its vast grasslands and northern climate are ideal for raising cattle. The conditions are ideal for bos taurus breeds like Black Angus and Hereford which produce tender beef perfect for steaks. All cattle raised for beef are of the bos taurus breed. Some countries like Brazil favour the bos indicus (Zebu), breed of cattle whose meat is tougher but more flavourful which is great for Brazilian style Churrasco. The cold winters are also a natural barrier to disease and helps ensure the health of the herds.

The cattle are raised by more than 68,500 ranchers in Canada, most of whom are family-run farms and ranchers who are socially responsible and committed to protecting and preserving the environment. Between 1981 and 2011, the Canadian beef industry reduced its greenhouse gas footprint by 15%, producing the same amount of beef using 24% less land. The land used for grazing cattle is usually not good for agriculture and the grazing helps to the natural grasslands to flourish just as the bison did centuries ago.

Canada AAA grade boneless Shortrib

Food Safety

In terms of food safety, Canada has world-class quality assurance and food safety systems in place. The National Animal Health Program utilizes the Canadian livestock tracking System which requires each animal to be tagged with an RFID tag in order to provide ongoing surveillance for the disease. Canada’s Food Safety Enhancement Program is based on the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) system which is focused on the prevention of foodborne illness which is the most important priority of the industry. So, when you buy Canadian beef, you can be assured of the highest food safety standards.

Conclusion

Canadian beef will start appearing in our supermarkets and butchery soon! The quality is very good and the character is quite similar to US beef. Do look out for it!

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